Investigative Reporter Wins Prestigious Prize for Coverage of Private Prison Abuses

by Pablo Ros  |  April 23, 2014

Investigative Reporter Wins Prestigious Prize for Coverage of Private Prison Abuses

Pat Beall, a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, won the 2014 Hillman Prize for Newspaper Journalism for her investigative series shedding light on human rights abuses and corruption within the private prison industry.

Beall’s multi-part investigation linked a pattern of human rights abuses to corporate cost-cutting.

In bestowing the award, the Sidney Hillman Foundation noted that Beall compiled 13 years of national data to document “the squalor, violence and abuse” that result from a pattern of hiring too few corrections officers or officers with little experience.

Just as importantly, Beall’s investigation traces the nationwide push for private prisons to laws crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an extremist group funded by the Koch brothers that is also responsible for crafting and pushing anti-worker laws that seek to destroy labor unions.

ALEC-backed laws encouraged growth of the private prison industry and “bloated prison populations, even as crime rates inched downward,” the Foundation noted.

Read Beall’s full investigative series here.

BOLD Action in Minnesota Preserves High-Quality Public Service

by David Patterson  |  April 23, 2014

BOLD Action in Minnesota Preserves High-Quality Public Service

When residents and workers of the small town of Olivia, Minn., discovered that its school board members planned to outsource its custodial staff, they made a BOLD move to stop it – the Bird Island Olivia Lake Lillian District (BOLD) coalition sprang into action.

BOLD quickly mobilized with AFSCME custodians, the teaching staff, paraprofessionals and the food service staff in the school district, as well as parents and local residents to hold a rally to show strength and solidarity with the custodial staff. School custodians, members of AFSCME Local 1686, first heard about the outsourcing scheme in March.

In mid-April, a special school board meeting was called to vote on the action to secure formal proposals to outsource the work, and that’s when BOLD really showed its strength. More than 150 concerned citizens contacted school board members and packed the board meeting to voice their concerns and tell the board they did not support outsourcing the custodians’ jobs.

Outsourcing often has a negative impact on the quality of public services and lowers wages in a local economy.

The call to preserve high-quality public services by preventing outsourcing was heard loudly and clearly. The board voted six-to-one against taking bids for the work.

“We really mobilized in the community and made sure that the school board members understood that parents and taxpayers and school employees did not support the outsourcing ploy,” said Council 65 staff representative Serena Vergin. “BOLD showed that the entire community stood with these workers.”

The AFSCME custodians are now in contract mediation with the school system and hope to reach a contract settlement covering them through 2015.


Union Families, Not Just Members, Are Better Off

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 23, 2014

Union Families, Not Just Members, Are Better Off

We all know that union members are paid more and receive better benefits than their non-union counterparts.  But that doesn’t mean that union contracts only help union members.  When it comes to retirement and health benefits, unions are good for the whole family.

A new study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that workers with union contracts are far more likely than nonunion workers to receive benefits that their family members can use. The effect is particularly dramatic when it comes to workers who are in same-sex domestic partnerships.

Workers who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement are about four times as likely to have a retirement plan that includes survivor benefits for a same-sex partner, married or unmarried.  And union health care packages are almost twice as likely to allow same-sex partners as beneficiaries.

LGBT Americans have long struggled to secure their rights at work, and benefits for same-sex partners still lag far behind those for heterosexual couples.  But as the BLS statistics show, unions are a critical voice in the fight for equality, and AFSCME will continue to fight for families of all kinds.

Four Ways Paul Ryan Will Jeopardize Your Future Health Care Coverage

by Ann Widger  |  April 21, 2014

The federal budget bill, authored by U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and approved this month in the House of Representatives, privatizes Medicare and takes billions from Medicaid.  It’s so unfair to current and future retirees that even many arch-conservatives refused to endorse it.

One of its worst provisions would raise the age when people can start receiving Medicare benefits. Here are four ways that could hurt you:

  • The House budget would delay the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67, starting with baby boomers born in 1959. Those retiring at 65 without employer sponsored health care coverage would be left to fend for themselves for two years. This section of the Ryan budget should be called, “Good luck to you – just don’t get sick.” 
  • Retirees who do have employer coverage also could be in trouble. The reason is that employers would carry the full cost of health care for those ages 65 and 66 – retirees who currently have Medicare as their primary insurance. If the eligibility age were 67 today, employer health costs would be $4.5 billion higher. So it would be no surprise if many employers shift these costs to retirees by raising premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Even worse, some employers will drop early-retiree coverage altogether to avoid paying so much more.
  • Retirees who are 65 and 66 won’t have an easy time buying individual insurance policies. That’s because the Ryan budget repeals provisions in the Affordable Care Act that protect consumers from the worst insurance company abuses.  Once again, insurers will be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. So, if you’re one of the millions of younger retirees who had cancer, high blood pressure or diabetes, good luck buying health insurance at any price.
  • Finally, if the eligibility age was 67 today, Medicare’s Part B premiums would go up 3 percent for all participants. Why? Because the healthiest and youngest retirees would no longer offset spending for the sickest and oldest retirees. The result would be higher costs across the board for all who remain in Medicare.  

Americans need a federal budget that sets a course for a better future, not one that curtails health care coverage for those who need it most.

Click here to see how your member of Congress voted to change your health care coverage.


PayWatch Raises Awareness about Income Inequality

by Pablo Ros  |  April 21, 2014

PayWatch Raises Awareness about Income Inequality

The average CEO in America made $11.7 million in 2013, or 331 times as much as the average worker, according to AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch, which helps raise awareness about income disparity in our nation.

According to PayWatch, the average CEO made 774 times more than minimum wage workers.

“America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, a country where hard work and playing by the rules would provide working families a middle-class standard of living,” the report observes. “But in recent decades, corporate CEOs have been taking a greater share of the economic pie while wages have stagnated and unemployment remains high.”

On PayWatch, you can hear from a Walmart worker who makes $12,000 a year as a customer service manager. That’s less than many CEOs make in a single hour. So many Walmart employees are in need of government assistance, in fact, it’s estimated that taxpayers subsidize the company’s profits to the tune of nearly a million bucks per store per year.

Check out PayWatch and help spread the word that income inequality is taking our country in the wrong direction.


Minnesota AFSCME Partners with Autism Society to Improve Children’s Lives

by David Kreisman  |  April 21, 2014

Minnesota AFSCME Partners with Autism Society to Improve Children’s Lives Maria Thor was part of the first cohort of child care providers to receive CCPT’s autism training.

ST. PAUL – Child care providers are in a unique position to identify the signs of autism in a child, since these become apparent between the ages of 2 and 3.

That’s why AFSCME’s Child Care Providers Together (CCPT) in Minnesota joined hands with the Autism Society of Minnesota to launch a pilot program that is the first step toward offering affordable autism training and certification to providers across the state.

Maria Thor, a CCPT member and provider from St. Paul, emphasized the usefulness of this pilot training program.

“They gave us some great tools and techniques to help children self-moderate and self-regulate,” she said. “These are useful not only with children on the autism spectrum, but everyone. Because everyone is on the same page and has the same expectations, nobody feels ‘different’ or is given special treatment.”

Providers are also learning the different ways to talk to parents about certain behaviors they may notice in a child, and how to encourage parents to have their child evaluated for autism.

Through this and other training programs organized by AFSCME’s Child Care Providers Together, providers and parents can team up to assist the child’s progress with activities specifically designed to help children with autism.

Twenty Minnesota child care providers participated in this innovative training, which is another example of how partnerships between AFSCME members and other local organizations improve lives in communities across our nation.

AFSCME Member to NLRB: Bring Fairness to Union Elections

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 21, 2014

AFSCME Member to NLRB: Bring Fairness to Union Elections Brenda Crawford (left), a registered nurse in California who is an AFSCME member, testified before the NLRB.

To Brenda Crawford, a registered nurse in California, and her colleagues at Universal Health Services, Inc. (UHS), forming a labor union to have a voice on the job proved to be a very difficult task.

UHS management did everything it could to make it impossible for their workers to have a fair union election. Management launched an aggressive campaign to block the union, including making anti-union communications to employees every few days, in person and by sending messages over the company’s internal electronic mail system.

Anti-union text message blasts were sent to the registered nurses’ personal cell phones, even though use of the system was previously limited for emergency messages.

That’s why Crawford, who since began working a second job and is now a member of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP), an AFSCME affiliate, is speaking out against these unfair practices. This month, she testified before the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, in Washington, DC, to help other workers form their own unions without having to overcome unfair obstacles employers often place in their way. The NLRB is considering changes to union election rules that would bring fairness to workers who wish to have a voice on the job.

Crawford told the NLRB there was nothing union organizers could do to respond with equal vigor or speed to UHS management’s ugly tactics. The workers seeking to join the union held their election last July and lost. Crawford said workers’ personal phone numbers and email addresses should be shared with the union in order to level the playing field.  

Crawford also said she supported other NLRB proposed rule changes that would remove obstacles from workers seeking union representation.

In addition to Crawford’s testimony, UNAC/AFSCME also filed a statement with the NRLB supporting the proposed rule changes designed to bring fairness to union representation elections. Despite opposition to the changes by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFSCME will continue to fight to make sure workers are allowed a voice on the job.

A City’s Turnaround Point, Led by Its Public Workers

by Helen Cox  |  April 17, 2014

Monroe, La. – When Monroe City Attorney Nancy Summersgill earlier this month announced she would terminate AFSCME Local 2388’s contract, it was a low point for a community where public services were neglected for far too long.

In recent years, reductions in city personnel deteriorated public services. Just a few years ago, 13 sanitation trucks served local residents.  Now, only five do.

But city workers who are members of Local 2388 stood up to this latest attack on their community’s wellbeing and rallied immediately in support of protecting public services and their contract. They pointed out major contract violations and convinced Summersgill and Mayor Jamie Mayo to reverse their union-busting position. Today, city government is more willing than ever before to speak directly with workers.

AFSCME workers are fighting to increase city personnel and for an across-the-board $1-an-hour raise. They want all workers to make at least a living wage of $10 an hour.

“Now that we’ve protected our rights, we can do anything,” said Robert Johnson, president of Local 2388. “We’ve doubled the size of our union since this fight began. We’re always stronger if we stand together on behalf of the community and the workers.”

California Pensions Boost State Economic Growth

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 17, 2014

California Pensions Boost State Economic Growth For each $1 taxpayers contribute, the California public employee retirement system returns $10.85 in economic activity to California. (SOURCE: CalPERS Economic Impacts in California report for fiscal year ending June 30, 2012)

Public employee pensions benefit more than just the retirees who receive them. As a new report out of California shows, pensions are good for the whole economy.

The state-conducted study concludes that CalPERS, the California public employee retirement system, creates more than $30 billion in economic growth each year.

When workers save for retirement, they are ensuring they will have money to spend at local businesses in later years.  California’s retired workers spend enough to add $30.4 billion to the state’s economy. The study estimates this spending is responsible for creating more than 100,000 jobs. That’s in addition to the $20.7 billion the CalPERS portfolio invests in local businesses.

When people like San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed talk about dismantling California retiree benefits, they’re not just threatening the livelihood of retired public servants. Pension “reform” is a danger to jobs and growth in every part of the economy.

AFSCME President Urges Students to Be “Disrupters”

by Joye Barksdale  |  April 17, 2014

AFSCME President Urges Students to Be “Disrupters” Students presented AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders a statuette of a Nittany Lion, the Penn State University mascot, after Saunders delivered the Philip Murray Memorial Labor Lecture.

State College, Pa. – AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders encouraged Penn State University students to be “disrupters” and join the labor movement if they want to make a difference today, much like the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 did in 1968.

Saunders gave the 23rd annual Philip Murray Memorial Labor Lecture this week at Penn State’s School of Labor and Employment Relations. The audience included students, faculty members, AFSCME members and members of other unions.

The lecture is named for Murray, the first president of the United Steelworkers of America, who was also the second president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. It brings labor leaders together with members of the university community to talk about the role of the labor movement in a democratic society.

Saunders said the sanitation workers were risk-takers whose bold strike “upset the social order” and challenged the status quo. He also talked about the labor movement’s role as the last line of defense for people who are beset by student-loan debt, low wages, disappearing retirement security and other financial pressures. He reminded the audience of the labor movement’s achievements and said unions are the key to an economy that works for everyone.

Unions are more important than ever at a time when there is a tremendous gap between the very wealthy and the average working family, he said.

“Look, we aren’t bashing the rich. This isn’t about income envy,” Saunders said. “What we’re saying is that our nation isn’t going to get any stronger economically if money keeps flowing out of workers’ pockets and into Donald Trump’s.”

There is another problem with tremendous income inequality, he said. “When so much wealth and power rests with so few people, they exercise outsize influence on our political system, drowning out other voices.  They rig the system.”

Unions are the answer, he said, because they “play a role in lifting up all workers whether or not they’re in unions. The contracts we bargain put pressure even on non-unionized employers to increase wages and benefits. In areas where there is a union, you get paid more. Not just if you’re in the union. All of you get paid more.”

Saunders mentioned the walkouts by workers in fast-food chains, as well as the recent move by football players at Northwestern University to join a union. In 2014, he said, “people view joining a union as radical.”

“Learn about and become part of the American labor movement,” he said. “Be a disrupter, just like the sanitation workers of Memphis were in 1968.”